This online campaign was intended to raise money for our most important strategic initiative - the on-going program to promote the manufacture, sale and consumption of biomass fuel briquettes. We wanted to expand the program by setting up more briquette presses; to increase productivity and consumption and thereby reduce the demand for charcoal. We needed our online community to donate in support of that goal. In addition we wanted people to engage with the problem of deforestation at a strategic level; to see how massive and complex it is. We are trying to change the way an almost unimaginable number of people think about, and use, fuel. In general those people’s attitudes and habits date from a time when deforestation was not a problem. They are habits that have been engrained by centuries of charcoal production and consumption. If we don’t change those attitudes we’ll lose vital habitat and then species. As conservation projects go it doesn’t get any bigger or more difficult than this.
The following facts and figures, taken from a survey conducted by researchers at Goma University, give an idea of the scale of the problem of deforestation caused by charcoal production. In 2007 Goma had 550,000 inhabitants. Only 3% of households had access to semi-reliable electricity. 97% of them used charcoal: 55% bought it in bulk and 42% bought it daily at retail prices. The average household (nine people) used 24 sacks of charcoal (35kg each) per year. That’s 840 kg, which is equivalent to 5,040 kg of wood (six kilos of wood produce one of charcoal). Non-household consumers used 28, 300 sacks per year. The combined total was 1,355,000 sacks per year, the equivalent of 47, 425 tons a year. That demand corresponds to about 476,000 cubic metres in wood.
A well-managed eucalyptus plantation in the Albertine Rift region would yield 20-25 cubic metres of wood per hectare per year. Therefore a state run plantation of between 19,000 and 24, 000 hectares could replace the wood used by the people of Goma but it would mean maintaining over 50 million trees.
The wood used by the 3.5 million people who live within walking distance of Goma amounted to 1.78 million tons of wood or 3 million cubic metres of wood. To replace it you would need a plantation of 125 -150,000 hectares or 250 Million trees.
The survey couldn’t find a single supplier of charcoal outside the park. A flyover in July 2007 noted 75 kilns active inside the park on that day alone.
It was obvious that we needed to address this problem ourselves. The challenge was to provide local fuel consumers with a credible alternative to charcoal. After a year of pilot tests to determine the viability of biomass briquettes as that alternative, it became clear that there was a real chance that the people of North Kivu would stop using charcoal and start using briquettes. This was big news.
SenterNovem in the Netherlands approved a subsidy from the Daey Ouwens Fund for Small-Scale Renewable Energy Projects to help carry the project forward. With this subsidy and donations from the public, we set out to get more that 300,000 people to change the way they cook. In so doing we planned to provide 7,500 new jobs for people who might otherwise be involved in the charcoal trade.
When this campaign started in March of 2009 the program was at a crossroads. There were 130 briquette machines in operation in and around Virunga. The campaign came as a second phase, or reinforcement, to the program. We wanted to get 100 new briquette presses and kits up and running around the park by the end of May 2009. To do that we needed to raise: $28,897.00
That number breaks down like this:
$92 for the actual press machine;
$36 for a 1/3 of a greenhouse (we supply 1 greenhouse for every 3 groups of briquette producers);
$28 for 2 tarps to protect from rain;
$49.7 for a 1/3 of a mill (we supply 1 mill for every 3 groups of briquette producers);
$42 for 6 stoves (we provide 1 stove to each member of the 6-person briquette team);
$8 for 2 gerrycans that are used to carry water. Remember we have to mix water in with the mulch to get it to stick and actually make a briquette;
$13.20 for roofing;
$19.87 for additional miscellaneous items such as large plastic buckets;
So the total, per briquette machine with kit, is $288.97.
By October 2009, in part because of this campaign, we had made significant progress with the Briquettes Program. By the end of the year we had over 500 presses in production, we were producing over 4000 sacks of briquettes a month, and we had over 3000 people involved in that production.
Getting to that position was not easy. We had to set up a workshop in Rumangabo to build presses; assemble a team of trainers and business advisors; and build a very effective logistics, finance and administrative support system, as well as a transport business. We had also conducted an innovative marketing campaign in which we rented full-size billboards for posters, produced and distributed explanatory booklets, and recorded a theme song for the program. But there is still plenty of work to be done and the stakes could not be higher.